Friends of God

Sermon on the 20th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
26 September 2020 – You can watch the sermon here.

May I speak in the name of God, who is Love. 

I’d like to start out this morning by trying something new. I’m going to ask Brooke to share a piece of art on our screens. I figure if we’re doing church on computers we might as well take advantage of some of the perks and look at something together. 

Brooke just shared part of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. As you look at it, first, pay attention to how you feel you feel. And second, what is standing out to you about this piece of artwork today?

Now I have my phone here so I can see some of the zoom chat so while this won’t work for you if you’re on Facebook or YouTube but if you’re on Zoom and you want to share something you’re noticing I’d invite you to put it into the chat. 

What stands out to me is the active reaching in this painting. It’s such a beautiful piece of art that you can really see the movement of Adam reaching out for God. But in spite of this very active reach there’s still this gap between Adam and God that cannot be crossed. 

This desire to touch God and to know God is a shared human experience – whether we seek God in a religious practice, in nature, or in meditation and yoga practices – there seems to be almost an innate desire to understand the Divine Spirit that sustains us. 

But no matter how hard we strive, there is – like in the painting –  a gap of understanding and knowing God that cannot be overcome as humans. God’s nature remains just beyond us. 

Ecclesiastes 3:11 speaks of this innate yearning and distance, the verse says, “God has placed eternity in the heart of humans, yet we cannot fathom what God is doing from beginning to end.” 

The Jewish tradition acknowledges this inability to fathom the completeness of God in that they never write the name of God, Instead they pen, G_d and, in doing so, they embody the human limitations of understanding God. 

Not even Moses, who walks intimately with God, was able to know God as Moses desired. 

One of my good friends and respected teachers, the Rev. Dr. Charles Hefling once asked, “How do we become friends of God?” I rattled around thoughts in my brain, until he very kindly interjected, sharing with me his understanding of friendship with God. 

He said, “On our own merits, we cannot be friends with God. However, in the incarnation Jesus we can know God in human form and by befriending Jesus we can become friends of God.”

It seems to me that this act of becoming friends with Jesus is central to the life of Christians, those who follow Christ. We, like the disciples, can come to know Jesus by accompanying him through his ministry. Now, of course, we can’t be there in the same way as the disciples but we can know him by listening to stories about stories about him.

When we hear stories of Jesus spending time with the Samaritan woman and having dinner at Nicodemus’s house – we know that he crossed boundaries to build relationships with outsiders. 

We hear stories of how he welcomed children and wept for his friend Lazarus – we know his tender compassion for those he loved. 

When we hear of Jesus’s anger and the Temple of how he turned over the tables of the money changers – we know his anger at exploitation and oppression. 

As we spend time with Jesus in prayer, in scripture, and as we meet him in the sacraments, we come to know Jesus and through Jesus we get glimpses we come to know God. 

Now the good news, for us and for the world, is that Jesus is not inviting us to know him by watching, Jesus is inviting us to join him. 

In the gospel of John, Jesus says, “No longer do I call you servants, for servants do not know what the master is doing. But I have called you friends because I have made known to you everything that the father has made known to me. This is what it means to be a friend of God, to abide in my love. I will know that you abide in my love when your life bears the fruit of love.”  

As friends of Jesus we are invited to participate in the work of God, to participate in God’s ongoing movement of love and justice and reconciliation. We do this, not by learning a system of rules, but by drawing near to Jesus, by learning how he lived, by loving the people he loved, and by joining in his way of life. 

Because the truth is, we cannot close this gap between us and God – no matter how hard we reach. Thankfully, Jesus closed the gap for us and as we become his friends, we come to know God, and indeed we become friends of God.

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